This Arsenal team matched the champions in every department except finishing, yet as far as I’m concerned they are still in disgrace.
Because if they had shown just 50% of yesterday’s commitment, concentration and skill against West Bromwich Albion eight days earlier we would now be only four points behind Chelsea and level with the Middle Eastlanders. Not to mention three points ahead of the knuckle-scrapers from down the road.
Losing away at Stamford Bridge is no shame, particularly with a battling performance like yesterday’s, but what will kill us this year is inconsistency. That and our worrying ability to collapse in games we should win comfortably – a phenomenon that started in the last quarter of last season.
I know some will say that West Brom is history and we should move on, but the single biggest lesson our squad needs to learn is that they have to be up for every single game as if it’s Chelsea away.
So onto yesterday’s match. The first thing to say is that it was an excellent game of football: two good teams going at it, chances at both ends and two outstanding goals (sadly both from the Forces of Darkness).
We were fast out of the traps and had two chances early on – a difficult diving header from Chamakh that led to a corner, then a lame headed effort from Koscielny inside the six yard box with the goal beckoning. He seemed to get his body into the wrong position and ended up connecting with the back of his head, sending the ball over the bar. Frustrating in the extreme. Arsene Wenger even singled it out for mention in his post-match comments, which is a real rarity as the boss hardly ever criticises individual players.
What was pleasing in the early stages was that we were defending from the front and closing down Chelsea whenever they were in possession. Nasri was busy, Song was committed and less profligate in his forward forays than against Partizan, Diaby had remembered to turn on the ‘on’ switch in his brain, Wilshere looked classy, both fullbacks were having good games.
Then there was Arshavin who was, well, Arshavin. Winston Churchill once described Russia as a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma and we might well use that description for our own little Russki. He looks semi-involved and semi-interested most of the time and then springs to life to create goal chances. In the first half he managed to produce two powerful shots that brought two good saves from Helmet in the Chavs’ goal.
Chelsea always looked a threat on the break and although our centre backs just about coped with Drogba’s pace and strength, they never looked assured against him and it was no surprise when he opened the scoring: an audacious near post finish, leaving Fabianski no chance.
Half time 1-0 down, but we came out for the second half with the air of a team that really felt they could get back in the game. Our pass-and-move football was a joy to watch, with Nasri, Wilshere, Diaby and Song at the heart of everything. We were pulling Chelsea all over the place and looked the better team.
I really believed we were going to get the equaliser our pressure deserved but whatever chances we carved out were squandered. Chamakh rose well for a header that went three feet wide when it should have been on target and was probably our clearest scoring opportunity, but there were many occasions when we got into the box in threatening positions only to be foiled by wrong options, mis-control or good defending. Sometimes it was plain bad luck, with ball running kindly for Chelsea on several occasions.
Clichy and Song both tried long distance shots with predictable results. (With Clichy’s goal record he should be under strict orders NEVER to shoot from distance – it just wastes an attacking move).
At the other end we held a high line and played Russian Roulette with our offside trap. Fortunately whenever we pulled the trigger the chamber was as blank as Ashley Cole’s moral conscience.
Song did a good job breaking up Chelsea’s moves and tried his best to out-muscle Drogba, although the Ivorian’s strength meant that sometimes the only option was to foul him. I’m not going to complain about that – we have all been crying out for our midfield and defence to take the pragmatic option more often and that’s what Song was doing. At least he didn’t pick up another yellow card.
When Alex made it 2-0 with a thunderbolt free kick in the 85th minute you knew there was no way back. Again, Fabianski had no chance and although you could criticise our wall you have to acknowledge the quality of the strike.
We ended up losers, but with a much better performance than we managed against Chelsea either home or away last season. With our missing players back you would really fancy us to do them at the Grove.
We’re now seven points behind, but at this stage of the season that’s easily capable of being made up. And make no mistake, Chelsea are not as good as their results indicate. They will drop more points as the season goes on and if we can avoid any more performances like the one against West Brom we can keep ourselves right in the race.
Fabianksi: one dodgy moment early on, but did very well after that. Could the Pole be beginning to slay his demons? 8
Sagna: good defensively and really contributed to the persistent threat we posed down their left flank. 7
Clichy: got caught out upfield a couple of times, but overall had an excellent game. We were terrorised down our left side against Chelsea last season but this time he kept them quiet. I wish he wouldn’t shoot from outside the box though. 7
Squillaci: named captain presumably because of his age and experience, I thought he did well against a very powerful and potent attack. Yes, he didn’t always win the tussles but at least he was tussling and he held his position well. 6.5
Koscielny: should have scored very early on, but defensively did OK. The jury is still out but I think he’ll be a top player when he fully settles in to the PL. 6
Wilshere: spread play beautifully, kept his discipline and always moved the ball quickly and well. I would rather see him swap position with Song because he offers more threat in the final third. 7.5
Diaby: by no means my favourite player but he was very good in this game, showing skill and commitment. He also cleared three or four of their corners from the front of our six yard box. How can he be the same man as the one who ambled round the pitch against WBA? 7.5
Song: very good all round performance, breaking up Chelsea’s moves, giving the likes of Drogba and Essien a real physical battle and passing much better than he did against Partizan. 7.5
Arshavin: a lot of things didn’t come off for him (his touch is very on/off at the moment) but he is always a threat and was unlucky not to score with one long range shot. 6
Nasri: becoming Arsenal’s best player this season by a stretch. Involved in everything and always looking to get at the Chelsea defence. His effort and attitude are top notch. 8 – MotM
Chamakh: could have done better with that second half header, but always offered, worked hard to close them down from the front and got into dangerous positions, even if they didn’t come off for him. A couple of penalty shouts, but they would have been generous in the extreme if the ref had given them. 7
Rosicky: involved in some good moments. 7
Jay Emmanuel-Thomas and Carlos Vela weren’t on long enough to merit a rating.